24 May 2011

Fracking, groundwater and markets

RH wrote me with this observation in reference to The End of Abundance:
And with environmental damage not only to our surface water sources, but more troubling still, to our groundwater sources, we have a shrinking "pie" of clean water. I've just received an email from a friend of mine who is a professor at a college in central Pennsylvania, and he has been telling me of the heart-breaking and quasi-permanent damage being done to the aquifers there by the notorious "fracking" method of extracting natural gas. When I worked as a scientist for an environmental consulting firm in New Jersey - back in the mid-1980's - the cost of cleaning up contaminated groundwater typically was roughly 2-3 orders of magnitude higher than cleaning up a comparable toxics release into the soil matrix. So a spill that effected only the soil might cost $10,000 to clean up, but if it had gotten into the groundwater, the clean-up cost likely would be closer to $1 to $10 million. Intentionally injecting highly toxic chemicals into the groundwater is something that just doesn't make sense in today's world; yet despite all of our extremely advanced scientific knowledge, in so many places, people seem to be taking our fresh water supplies for granted.
I replied with this:
Short answer is YES, b/c the current system of abuses originates in bureaucratic processes where, at a minimum, someone decides how much pollution you, the landowner, will get.

A market would allow people to opt out OR be paid "enough" to take the pollution. I know that can be mishandled, but the bureaucratic system (or ZERO fracking) is worse...
Please comment. I am writing an op/ed on this issue soon and need to hear more pros and cons.